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San Diego Green Zone: 100+ Food Gardens Initiative

Community-driven, food system-supported Regional Enterprise Zone revitalization, with brownfields+ becoming green hubs of health

Photo of Cynthia Fuller Quinonez
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Slow Food Urban San Diego

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The SDGZ Coalition, provisionally led by Slow Food Urban San Diego, is now forming with outreach to engage both leaders and members of San Diego's Promise Zone Healthy Communities Work Group, the San Diego Food System Alliance, and others contributing to the past decade's ground-breaking, food system-strengthening work undertaken together. Also, plans are to complete in February, 2020, outreach already begun to leaders and supporters of existing community and school gardens in San Diego's old REZ especially in its census tracts with federal Promise Zone and/or Opportunity Zone designation -- today’s boots-on-the-ground/community-change-agents currently doing wonderful work to positively transform health outcomes in their neighborhoods. The coalition is dedicated to the inclusion of both well-established and more nascent key organizations from San Diego's Project New Village, Community Garden Network and Master Gardener Association to Mongol Tribe and Mundo Gardens.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Just beginning now

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

San Diego, California

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

San Diego's former Regional Enterprise Zone (REZ), herein called the San Diego Green Zone (SDGZ) for the vision of its future vitality

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Since 2012, Slow Food Urban San Diego (SFUSD) has worked hard and well for good, clean and fair food, especially in San Diego's most densely populated and economically disadvantaged urban neighborhoods.  Board and committee members, partners and volunteers, together with urban San Diego residents, have a great eight-year history of collaboratively celebrating our local food ecosystem through enriching experiences rooted in regeneration, community & justice.  They largely connect through a set of projects undertaken by the following SFUSD committees. 

The Education Committee provides educational opportunities for members and the public, supporting school gardens and campus chapters, also publishing Edible San Diego for Kids.

The Ark of Taste Committee describes and promotes forgotten flavors.

The Food Justice Committee works with San Diego's food access/security organizations, environmental organizations and more to promote sustainable agriculture/urban farming.

The Seafood Liaison links San Diegans with the local commercial fishing community, coordinating San Diego Seafood Saturday events at Tuna Harbor Dockside Market+.

The Farm Liaison links Slow Food Urban San Diego with the local farming community and recommends strategies for the chapter to advocate for and support farmers.

Key for the SDGZ 100+ Food Garden's initiative is Julie Diaz, the SFUSD Education Chair, who is also a San Diego PZ Healthy Communities Work Group member. Julie regularly helps link San Diegans - especially school and community garden leaders - to the Slow Food National School Garden Program and Slow Food International's garden programming too. Together Julie and the SFUSD Farm Liaison combine educational and technical assistance in support of school and community garden programs, both expected to be key for successful realization of  the SDGZ 100+ Food Gardens vision. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

San Diego - “the birthplace of California" - rises from the Pacific Ocean to its west, and Baja California, Mexico, to its south. Major attractions: fine weather, spectacular waterfront with one of the world's best natural harbors, and varied rich terrain, not only luring tourists. 3+ million people call the county home, 1.4 million of these in the city, which is California’s 2nd largest.

From Kumeyaay settlement, well into last century, land and sea have yielded a wealth of high quality, delicious and nutritious, local sustenance. Unfortunately now, in its most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods (south of I-8 to the border, west of I-805), this food is now largely displaced by heavily processed, health harming foods with high carbon footprints.  Too many establishments almost exclusively sell ready-to-eat, cheap, fast food, implicated in poor diet-related community health outcomes. 

In 1986, these neighborhoods were designated a REZ, 1 of 42 in California, with development incentives and fewer restrictions, plus support from local agencies, intended to stimulate economic growth benefiting all facets of life for residents. By 2006, the County knew health disparities and inequities remained, with childhood obesity in much of the REZ almost at epidemic levels.  Issues of childhood hunger, food insecurity, poverty, lack of healthy food access, and limited affordable quality childcare were amplified, especially in neighborhoods with the lowest socioeconomic status and/or highest rates of minority population.

Issue persistence qualified some REZ census tracts for 2012 federal Promise Zone designation - a total of 6.4-square miles with 77,000 residents, too many suffering low educational attainment, insufficient access to healthcare, rising crime rates and a lack of affordable housing. Unemployment rate: 15.61%. Poverty rate: 39.06%.  Here the City, with a diversity of local partners, is now focused on developing programs and initiatives for streamlined resource access, and otherwise delivering comprehensive support for improved quality of life and accelerated revitalization. 

Our 100+ food gardens, community-driven transformation vision is for the old REZ, with support from San Diego's PZ Healthy Communities Work Group, County Live Well teams, Food System Alliance, member organizations and more.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

A focus on the power of healthy foods to transform neighborhoods is not at all new in San Diego.  Since at least 2012, local food system members have been busy identifying challenges, enacting policy and undertaking important initiatives expected to aid SDGZ 100+ Food Gardens success. By 2016, work was officially begun across San Diego to effect change in support of more farmers markets, community agriculture and government procurement of healthy foods, in part driven by an important document produced by the International Rescue Committee for the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, Establishing Community Gardens in San Diego County: What Local Governments Can Do

In 2016, the San Diego’s biggest community garden challenges were categorized as Start-up and Participation Barriers: resident unfamiliarity with the regulatory landscape, lack of necessary financial resources, lack of access to suitable land, and water costs (including the costs of installing irrigation systems and water meters).  Recommendations at that time were as follows. 

Adopt Supportive Policy Language

Remove Barriers and Create Opportunities

  • Expand zones where community gardens are permitted and/or remove requirements for conditional use permits if one is currently required.
  • Remove unnecessary zoning barriers 
  • Remove restrictions regarding the height of vegetation along property lines
  • Adopt policies or practices for community gardens on underutilized public property
  • Provide a tax incentive (ref AB551)
  • Make water accessible and affordable through water meter tap waivers or grants and/or by allowing for an agricultural/garden water rate. Also training on  irrigation practices.

Allow for Multiple Activities

  • Allow for on-site sales.
  • Support and facilitate off-site sales (ref. AB1990 plus AB234) and inform Community Food Producers of their rights related to off-site sales.

Actively Support and Promote

  • Create a one-stop-shop to make it easier for people to access resources, navigate regulations, and apply for permits 
  • Create outreach and marketing 
  • Increase # governments adopting new language and/or change existing language regarding community agriculture/gardens, supporting more advanced policies, and creating or expanding locally administered programs.

Convening is needed sooner rather than later for the community’s update of the 2016 challenges and recommendations lists, tentatively 3/7/2020 at up-and-coming community garden venue, National City’s Paradise Creek – a SDGZ 2020 Food Garden Fair which ideally will provide the model for an annual “State of the SDGZ” update.  A key outcome desired from this event: current assessment of key challenges/critical needs and available resources, the gaps to be more fully clarified.  The SDGZ Coalition will then update the vision accordingly, augmenting and adjusting its road map for the work ahead, better informed to support the efforts of community and school garden leaders, streamlining resource-to-need connections for realization of the dream.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

San Diego’s food system has been greatly strengthened during last ten years through formation of the San Diego Food System Alliance (SDFSA) in 2011, and the collaborative work of member organizations since, all now focused on a 2030 San Diego County-wide food system vision effort, developing a strategic plan for moving the entire region toward a healthier, more sustainable and just food system.[i]  

Just one of many examples, the SDFSA’s Urban Agriculture Work Group has been instrumental in supporting local cities’ adoption of AB551, a California bill passed in 2014 which aims to increase land access for urban agriculture through the use of vacant, privately-owned land. This allows landowners in urban areas to receive tax incentives for putting land into agriculture use. For landowners in San Diego County to benefit from this new state law, county and city jurisdictions must work together to designate approved urban agriculture incentive zones (UAIZ).  

A link to San Diego’s latest State of the Food System report provides up-to-date details.[ii]

[i], and


High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Two key inspirations for the SDGZ 100+ Food Gardens Initiative include the following.

10,000 Gardens in Africa. Slow Food International has been supporting the design, creation and continued operation of 10,000 food gardens, in and by African schools and communities since 2012. In doing so it has more than helped Africans increase their own access to healthy, fresh, local food. It has also trained a network of leaders aware of the value of their land and their culture who can serve as protagonists for change and the continent’s future.  Each garden is a concrete model of sustainable agriculture, easily replicated with adaption for different environmental, social and cultural contexts. Each community decides what to cultivate, how and when, with Slow Food sharing its path forward and connecting each garden’s leaders with others, for exchange of ideas, information and solutions. 

Southeastern San Diego’s Project New Village (PNV).  Diana Moss, PNV Managing Director  and a leading San Diego community wellness visionary, has embraced urban farming and community engagement as primary tools to improve food access, food security, and environmental wellness in her surrounding neighborhood. With its Mt. Hope Community Garden, People’s Produce Certified Farmers Market and Good Food District initiatives, food equity and self-determination are recognized as key factors for achieving better health, driving the project’s use of a social determinant health model.

The results already visible from both of the above illustrate how San Diego communities and the lives of their residents can be improved by SDGZ 100+ Food Gardens Initiative success.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

A dream is about to get real in San Diego, California: community-driven, food system-supported, lasting change, yielding robust physical, ecological and economic health outcomes in San Diego’s former Regional Enterprise Zone (REZ), herein called the San Diego Green Zone (SDGZ) for the vision of its future vitality.   A coalition is now forming, provisionally led by Slow Food Urban San Diego (SFUSD), to aid this zone’s health renaissance, by and for SDGZ community residents.

A catalyzing concept: 100+ food gardens, turning the SDGZ from an over-abundance of brownfields to green hubs of health, the change strengthening rather than displacing current residents.  Imagine the impact of at least 100 community-organized and maintained regenerative urban agriculture tracts – on school grounds, within community centers and housing complexes, in remediated brownfields, on roof-tops and as reclaimed vacant, blighted lots. Not only producing needed nutrition.  The vision:  100+ food gardens that serve as vital, transforming points of connection for community members to each other, and to the local food system, facilitated by the SDGZ Coalition.  Each garden is envisioned to promote multi-directional idea, information and resource exchange between community, coalition and food system members, measurably influencing positive health outcomes, in line with community-set priorities.

Initial plans are to complete outreach that has already begun to leaders and supporters of existing community and school gardens in the zone, especially those in former REZ census tracts that have also earned Promise Zone and Opportunity Zone designation.  While the vision as currently written incorporates input from a wide range of sources, it definitely needs more, especially from today’s boots on the ground/community change agents already doing wonderful, transforming food system work in SDGZ communities. Accordingly, the SFUSD hopes to convene both leaders and supporters at a fair similar to one held back in 2016, when changes to urban agriculture policy in cities across San Diego County were being envisioned (a number now enacted).

Once better mutually informed and more strongly connected through the envisioned food garden network, community, coalition and food system members believe they can best collaboratively achieve clearly defined, shared goals for essential, measurable, holistic health improvements by 2050, their resources adapted along the way in response to changing environmental, demographic and other factors.  Together, as garden yields begin making positive impacts, next steps can be planned and taken as needed, the road map for work ahead continually updated, each community leveraging its garden resource nexus, further transforming life across the SDGZ.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Prize partners
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Team (3)

Cynthia's profile
Christina's profile
Christina Abuelo

Role added on team:

"Sherman Grows/Sherman Heights Elementary School Garden Program Coordinator. Also Director, Barrio Botany program, extending Sherman Grows lessons to more schools / students in San Diego's most socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Garden-based nutrition and cooking educator, pooling resources with partner organization Leah's Pantry to bring gardens into the most blighted San Diego neighborhoods."

Julie's profile
Julie Diaz

Role added on team:

"Julie Diaz, SFUSD Education Chair, is also a San Diego PZ Healthy Communities Work Group member. Julie regularly helps link San Diegans - especially school and community garden leaders - to the Slow Food National School Garden Program and Slow Food International's garden programming too. Julie and the SFUSD Farm Liaison combine educational and technical assistance in support of school and community garden programs, both expected to be key for successful realization of the SDGZ 100+ Food Gardens"

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Attachments (5)


Introduction to the San Diego Food System Alliance


Healthy Food in Every San Diego Neighborhood Presentation


A Bioregional Approach: Health Places, Healthy People, Healthy Communities


San Diego Regional Enterprise Zone, Future Green Zone

San Diego 100 Gardens-Green Zone Vision.DOCX

Working Draft: SDGZ 100+ Food Gardens Vision


Join the conversation:

Photo of Zsofia Pasztor

There are some similarities between our visions. I would love to connect.

Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)

Thank you